Postcard from Rome, Italy: Villa Borghese remains as urban oasis

Dragons and eagles, symbols of the Borghese family, guard almost every entrance and are scattered throughout the almost 200-acre Villa Borghese. The papal politics surrounding the original land accumulation for this immense, well-used public park are found in the prior post.

We could access the park within a block of our apartment and would use it as a pleasant pathway to museums on its edges or any time it could possibly help us avoid more tourist-overwhelmed roots.

Yes, there are tourists inside the park, but Romans outnumbered us by far. Walking, dog-walking, playing ball, bicycling, electric-surrey-biking, jogging, practicing tai chi, reading, courting, picnicking, row-boating. An urban oasis.

 

Postcard from Rome, Italy: Never too much gild for the lily in Palazzo Decorating 101

With strongly patterned floors and walls and ceilings covered with murals and impressive paintings, a rape in the middle of the room could almost escape notice were it not illuminated by spotlights and the focus of the cameras of every tourist entering.

Roman palazzi decorating standards in the 1600s range toward the flamboyant. The larger the palette of colors of marble, the better. No surface should remain untouched. Combining geometric floor patterns with frilly wall and ceiling elements is the norm. Flowers and putti go well with anything and everything, even the darkest oil paintings. Art subjects often appear the opposite of morality plays. And there is no such thing as too much gilding of the lily.

Even in this visually overwhelming setting, “The Rape of Proserpine” by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) entices you to circle it. Vicious canines nip at poor Proserpine’s heels as she tries to escape the grasp of the god of the underworld.

Some of Bernini’s best known sculptures are found in the Borghese Gallery and Museum, Museo e Galleria Borghese. The museum is housed in a villa, referred to as the Casino Borghese, built for Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1577-1633) on what then was the edge of Rome. The casino sits in the midst of some of the vast acreage he managed to assemble for the Borghese clan while his uncle, Pope Paul V (1550-1621), was in charge of the Vatican.

Pope Paul V elevated his favorite nephew to cardinal as soon as he was elected. As the pope’s secretary, among the numerous titles bestowed upon him, Scipione Borghese accumulated great wealth through papal fees and taxes and then rent charged for the resulting vast real estate holdings, including several entire towns.

Despite the obvious nepotism privileges, the cardinal felt the need for a close-to-town escape for entertaining and to house his growing, also thanks to Vatican gifts, art collection. The cardinal was Bernini’s major client for a period of almost five years. The cardinal also demonstrated a penchant for collecting ancient Roman art and works by Carvaggio, Rafael and Titian.

Vatican enemies whispered, perhaps stage whispers, the cardinal was a homosexual. The viewed-as-inappropriate homoerotic art he assembled, with frolicking un-cardinal-like putti and drunken Bacchanalian figures perched around the edges of the ceiling, were viewed as contributing evidence for their claims.

Cardinal Scipione Borghese left behind a major art collection in the casino surrounded by acres and acres of parklike gardens. Subsequent Borghese family members added to or subtracted from the collection, depending on their current state of economic affairs.

The statue of Pauline Napoleon Borghese (1780-1824), Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister, posed as Venus is the work of Antonio Canova (1757-1822). During her husband’s lifetime, Camillo Borghese (1775-1832) kept the sensuous statue hidden from public view. But it and all the other naked figures are out of the closet for all to see now.

The entire Villa Borghese, which includes all the surrounding parkland, came under state ownership in 1901.

 

Postcard from Rome, Italy: Following Pink Floyd down the rabbit hole

He slipped on his headset and headed off through the swirling psychedelic lights. Egged on by the pied piper (“…at the Gate of Dawn”) playing in his ears, the Mister eagerly followed Alice traipsing down a rabbit hole of a time machine to his high school days.

Pink Floyd definitely was not on our minds when planning our daily agendas in Rome. In fact, if you had asked me, I could not have recalled when Pink Floyd was last on my mind.

But there we were. All comfortably fed and wined after a nice lunch. Standing at the door of MACRO, Museo D’Arte Contemporanea Roma. And there it was. The ticket counter for “The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains,” fresh from its debut at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

We considered walking away. The price tag for entry to the half-century retrospective was double that for most museums in Rome. And Pink Floyd? Fifty years of Pink Floyd?

But, then again, maybe we needed a vacation break from all those churches, ancient sculpture and Renaissance art. And other tourists.

Standing in the lobby, this exhibit certainly resonated loudly as a major escape. So we paid up and donned our headsets and started wandering back to sounds not heard since much more youthful days.

Five minutes in, even I was happy we had. I never had any Pink Floyd albums of my own and was surprised to be reminded of how much of their music was playing in the background of my world during the 1970s and 1980s.

The sound system was amazing; completely absorbing you; shifting as you wandered to different points in the exhibit at your own pace; fading in and out pleasantly, not abruptly. It left you free to move back and forth at will, and the Mister and I, while never standing more than 15 feet apart, structured two entirely different agendas.

We both watched portions of concerts, but the Mister parked himself in front of guitars, amps, mixers, and soundboards, growing increasingly more complex through the years the band played. I assume he was listening to soundtracks from albums on which they were used.

On the other hand, I was drawn to the stories. Interviews about Syd Barrett’s mental illness leading to his expulsion from the band in 1968; about songwriting; about album design; about set design for concerts. All were fascinating.

We stayed in the time machine for about three hours and easily could have slowed our pace. So, quick. Hop on a plane to Rome. You have until May 20th to catch the exhibit there.

Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time. Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines. Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way. The time is gone, the song is over, thought I’d something more to say.

“Time”/”Breathe,” Roger Waters, Dark Side of the Moon, 1973